SUNY removes question on criminal convictions from application

The State University of New York board voted Wednesday to remove from the 64-campus system’s application a question asking applicants to declare prior felony convictions.

At the same time, the system will ask some of those admitted, postadmission, for that information. Admitted applicants will have to answer the question if they seek campus housing or to participate in certain clinical or field experiences, internships, or study abroad.

The 8 to 2 vote by SUNY’s board is a major victory for the ban the box movement, which has urged colleges to stop asking questions about criminal convictions. SUNY receives more than 300,000 applications a year for its four-year colleges alone, so many people will no longer see that question once the new policy is in place for the 2018 admissions cycle.

The idea behind the movement is that merely asking the question may discourage applications from people who either were convicted unjustly or who have moved past criminal activity and want to participate legally and productively in society. To supporters of the movement, the many instances of unfairness faced by minority youth in the criminal justice system add to the urgency of banning the box.

While activist groups have been pushing for reform in this area for years, the idea gained momentum in May, when the Obama administration urged colleges to consider whether these questions are really necessary and — if so — whether they are being asked in the right ways.

But as the SUNY discussions illustrate, the issue isn’t without complications. SUNY is a leading player in training students for careers as teachers or health professionals — and students with such goals may be barred from licensure or employment based on past felony convictions. The idea of asking about felony status postadmission is to be sure such students know they may have difficulty obtaining employment in some fields that may have attracted them to SUNY.

In New York, the SUNY Student Assembly has been pushing to drop the convictions question. System administrators conducted a lengthy review of the policy before proposing the change.

Nancy L. Zimpher, chancellor of the SUNY system, issued a statement in which she praised students and others who sought the change. “Today’s policy revision is a milestone achievement for SUNY, one that positions our university system as a leader in what has become a national movement to expand access and educational opportunity for individuals with a felony history,” she said.

Finding the Right Balance

When a SUNY board committee met Tuesday to consider the issue, members were supportive of the idea of banning the box but raised questions about the specifics.

The original proposal before the committee wouldn’t have fully banned the box. It would have maintained the question for felony convictions related to sexual violence. Joseph Porter, general counsel of SUNY, explained that in discussing the draft policy with campus presidents, some wanted to continue to ask about that type of convictions, given the push at SUNY and nationally to prevent sexual assaults.

But several trustees said they were troubled by what they called a “carve out” from the policy. Trustees said that they agreed that felonies involving sexual assault are terrible but asked why there might not also be a question about whether someone had been convicted of murder or a terrorist act. Several said that SUNY should either drop the box or not.

After discussion, the committee dropped the special provision for crimes involving sexual violence. So the proposal the full board approved Wednesday will completely drop the preadmissions question.

One trustee said he was worried about possibly seeing “psychotics” admitted to SUNY campuses.

Porter, the general counsel, responded by saying that there is an “uncomfortable truth” about that concern. People with severe mental illness don’t necessarily also have felony convictions, and those with felony convictions are not all mentally ill. (The American Psychiatric Association notes that people with mental illness are no more likely to be violent than people without mental health disorders.)

Porter also said that people deceive themselves if they think questions like the one SUNY will drop mean that there are no people on campus with felony convictions. “There are people with prior felony convictions on every one of our campuses today,” he said, and SUNY uses a variety of strategies to make sure that people on campus don’t pose a security threat. “These folks are out there,” Porter said. “They have not been banished to Devil’s Island.”

‘Too Broad and Too Narrow’

Ronald G. Ehrenberg, a SUNY trustee who is director of the Cornell University Higher Education Research Institute, was one of the trustees who voted against the policy shift.

Ehrenberg said via email that he was concerned about the second part of the policy, which requires those admitted to report felony convictions if applying to live on campus or participate in various programs.

“That portion of the policy seemed both too broad and too narrow,” he said. “Too broad because I felt it should be restricted to felony convictions for sexual and other acts of violence. Too narrow because the policy seems to say no matter what your criminal act, you are OK to be a student on campus. I would have preferred evidence from the criminal justice system that felons who committed acts of violence were felt to be rehabilitated.”

Ehrenberg added, “I understand fully the social imperative to provide access to college for underrepresented groups who are overrepresented in our criminal justice system, but I guess I concluded the resolution was too rushed and deserved further discussion with our campus presidents before being adopted.”

Admissions
Students and Violence
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The State University of New York board voted Wednesday to remove from the 64-campus system's application a question asking applicants to declare prior felony convictions.

At the same time, the system will ask some of those admitted, postadmission, for that information. Admitted applicants will have to answer the question if they seek campus housing or to participate in certain clinical or field experiences, internships, or study abroad.

The 8 to 2 vote by SUNY's board is a major victory for the ban the box movement, which has urged colleges to stop asking questions about criminal convictions. SUNY receives more than 300,000 applications a year for its four-year colleges alone, so many people will no longer see that question once the new policy is in place for the 2018 admissions cycle.

The idea behind the movement is that merely asking the question may discourage applications from people who either were convicted unjustly or who have moved past criminal activity and want to participate legally and productively in society. To supporters of the movement, the many instances of unfairness faced by minority youth in the criminal justice system add to the urgency of banning the box.

While activist groups have been pushing for reform in this area for years, the idea gained momentum in May, when the Obama administration urged colleges to consider whether these questions are really necessary and -- if so -- whether they are being asked in the right ways.

But as the SUNY discussions illustrate, the issue isn't without complications. SUNY is a leading player in training students for careers as teachers or health professionals -- and students with such goals may be barred from licensure or employment based on past felony convictions. The idea of asking about felony status postadmission is to be sure such students know they may have difficulty obtaining employment in some fields that may have attracted them to SUNY.

In New York, the SUNY Student Assembly has been pushing to drop the convictions question. System administrators conducted a lengthy review of the policy before proposing the change.

Nancy L. Zimpher, chancellor of the SUNY system, issued a statement in which she praised students and others who sought the change. “Today’s policy revision is a milestone achievement for SUNY, one that positions our university system as a leader in what has become a national movement to expand access and educational opportunity for individuals with a felony history,” she said.

Finding the Right Balance

When a SUNY board committee met Tuesday to consider the issue, members were supportive of the idea of banning the box but raised questions about the specifics.

The original proposal before the committee wouldn't have fully banned the box. It would have maintained the question for felony convictions related to sexual violence. Joseph Porter, general counsel of SUNY, explained that in discussing the draft policy with campus presidents, some wanted to continue to ask about that type of convictions, given the push at SUNY and nationally to prevent sexual assaults.

But several trustees said they were troubled by what they called a "carve out" from the policy. Trustees said that they agreed that felonies involving sexual assault are terrible but asked why there might not also be a question about whether someone had been convicted of murder or a terrorist act. Several said that SUNY should either drop the box or not.

After discussion, the committee dropped the special provision for crimes involving sexual violence. So the proposal the full board approved Wednesday will completely drop the preadmissions question.

One trustee said he was worried about possibly seeing "psychotics" admitted to SUNY campuses.

Porter, the general counsel, responded by saying that there is an "uncomfortable truth" about that concern. People with severe mental illness don't necessarily also have felony convictions, and those with felony convictions are not all mentally ill. (The American Psychiatric Association notes that people with mental illness are no more likely to be violent than people without mental health disorders.)

Porter also said that people deceive themselves if they think questions like the one SUNY will drop mean that there are no people on campus with felony convictions. "There are people with prior felony convictions on every one of our campuses today," he said, and SUNY uses a variety of strategies to make sure that people on campus don't pose a security threat. "These folks are out there," Porter said. "They have not been banished to Devil's Island."

'Too Broad and Too Narrow'

Ronald G. Ehrenberg, a SUNY trustee who is director of the Cornell University Higher Education Research Institute, was one of the trustees who voted against the policy shift.

Ehrenberg said via email that he was concerned about the second part of the policy, which requires those admitted to report felony convictions if applying to live on campus or participate in various programs.

"That portion of the policy seemed both too broad and too narrow," he said. "Too broad because I felt it should be restricted to felony convictions for sexual and other acts of violence. Too narrow because the policy seems to say no matter what your criminal act, you are OK to be a student on campus. I would have preferred evidence from the criminal justice system that felons who committed acts of violence were felt to be rehabilitated."

Ehrenberg added, "I understand fully the social imperative to provide access to college for underrepresented groups who are overrepresented in our criminal justice system, but I guess I concluded the resolution was too rushed and deserved further discussion with our campus presidents before being adopted."

Admissions
Students and Violence
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Community colleges negotiate transportation options to get students to class

For many students at two-year institutions across the country, regardless of whether they’re in a rural or more urban setting, transportation can be a significant barrier. Extending bus lines, buying shuttles and partnering with ride-sharing services are just some of the solutions community college leaders are looking at when it comes to getting their students on campus.

When Patricia Gentile arrived as president of North Shore Community College three years ago, she was surprised to find that there was no public transportation that reached the campus. North Shore, which is located north of the Boston metropolitan area, has three separate locations that serve about 7,000 students. The public transportation lines that travel through densely populated areas stop about four miles from one of the campus’s locations.

“We did a survey of students, and they said they pretty much arrange which campuses they’re using and the times of their classes based off when they can get there, so transportation has a big impact,” Gentile said, adding that the Danvers campus holds the college’s signature and most in-demand health service programs.

So the college studied the demographics of the area and worked with a transportation consultant to examine where students lived and commuted in an effort to try to get a bus route extended — it stopped at a shopping center about five miles away.

But in order to get a bus line extension, the college had to know its potential ridership.

“It became a chicken and egg problem, because you don’t know your ridership because you don’t have a bus line,” she said. “And you can’t have a bus line because you don’t know your ridership.”

So Gentile and other North Shore officials decided to reach out to the ride-sharing service Uber to cover the gap in transportation between the shopping mall five miles away and the campus.

“Uber has been marketing the North Shore, and they’ve been building drivers in the area by extending out from Boston,” Gentile said, adding that the company put together an app to collect data on students using the service so the college can know its ridership.

Meanwhile, the college is subsidizing Uber rides for students who use the app to travel between the mall stop and the campus. So far, since the start of this school year, 76 students have downloaded the promotional code from North Shore for the subsidized ride and eight people have taken a total of 16 trips.

Gentile said the college set aside $40,000 to cover the subsidized rides, which is far less than the $100,000 a year they estimate for potentially using shuttles instead.

For students attending community colleges in more rural areas, transportation has always been a bit of an issue.

On average rural students will travel 52 miles round-trip to attend college, said Randy Smith, president of the Rural Community College Alliance.

“There is no public transportation, for the most part,” he said. “Some rural communities will have a local van service, but trying to get public transportation doesn’t exist in a community of 8,000 or 10,000 people.”

In that situation, it’s not uncommon for faculty to see attendance issues if a car breaks down or if a ride from a friend falls apart. Changes in who gets to drive a family vehicle to work may determine whether or not a student drops out, he said.

Some colleges will choose to run their own shuttle service, which can be cheaper when they’re transporting a few students each day, he said, adding that others may try to build partnerships with local nonprofit agencies like the United Way that often have shuttle services for the elderly.

“A lot of individual colleges try to find ways to solve this effectively and as cost-efficiently as possible,” Smith said. “And some colleges don’t have anything and students are kind of on their own.”

At New Jersey’s suburban Brookdale Community College, faculty and administrators successfully lobbied county administrators and New Jersey Transit for three bus routes connecting the campus and its centers to students. The lines were adjusted so that they can continue service in the evening and on weekends.

“Because the buses are more frequent, students have more of an opportunity to be on time to class or take a class earlier or later,” said Oly Malpica Proctor, associate professor of math at Brookdale, who helped with establishing the bus lines. “We had to get into the mentality of taking public transportation, because we don’t think about it … we’re a suburb. We drive everywhere, so we had to bring transportation to the conversation.”

NJTransit worked with the college and examined class times to create a bus timetable that would accommodate students.

But not every college has had success with attempts to extend public transportation to their campuses. Officials at Mt. Hood Community College in Portland, Ore., learned recently that a proposed rapid-bus route to the campus was on the chopping block because of limited funding. The proposal would have connected Portland State University and Portland Community College through a route that ended at Mt. Hood CC.

“For many of our students in the east county area, it can take anywhere from an hour to two hours to actually get out to the college,” said Debra Derr, president of Mt. Hood. “We’re not unique when it comes to community colleges. For our students, within the context of the Portland metropolitan area, housing is far less expensive in our district … we’re seeing a large migration of individuals living in poverty and moving into our district.”

Mt. Hood’s demographics are shifting to include more low-income, first-generation students, who often don’t own a car and rely on mass transit to travel anywhere, she said.

“The impact is not just on our enrollment, it’s on our workforce,” she said. “Our business and industry partners are communicating to us the need for a skilled workforce. So how do people get skills and go to work when the frequency and bus lines have not been updated to address the education and training needs of these counties?”

Derr said she’s in a similar position the officials at North Shore were in when trying to establish a new route — proving that the ridership is there despite not having the transit available to study that ridership.

Eliminating the stretch of rapid-bus transit from a transit center to the college would reduce the project’s cost by $24 million. The entire project, which would include widening roads for dedicated bus lanes and upgrading streetlight technology, is expected to cost up to $200 million, according to The Oregonian.

It wouldn’t be the first time that Mt. Hood has been cut off from public transportation, though, Derr said, adding that 30 years ago a proposed mass transit line was planned to reach the college, but back then the money wasn’t available, either. She doesn’t want to see the college have to wait another 20 or 30 years before the issue is addressed.

“Portland overall is just an amazing place for urban planning and for mass transit, but because we are located in the east part of Portland metropolitan area, sometimes we get left out or not prioritized,” Derr said. “But this isn’t just a Mt. Hood issue. Getting students to and from school and to and from work is a challenge, and if we really want to look at the big picture of economic vitality, we have to look at the issue of transportation.”

Community Colleges
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Image Caption: 
New Jersey Transit bus
Is this breaking news?: 

For many students at two-year institutions across the country, regardless of whether they're in a rural or more urban setting, transportation can be a significant barrier. Extending bus lines, buying shuttles and partnering with ride-sharing services are just some of the solutions community college leaders are looking at when it comes to getting their students on campus.

When Patricia Gentile arrived as president of North Shore Community College three years ago, she was surprised to find that there was no public transportation that reached the campus. North Shore, which is located north of the Boston metropolitan area, has three separate locations that serve about 7,000 students. The public transportation lines that travel through densely populated areas stop about four miles from one of the campus’s locations.

"We did a survey of students, and they said they pretty much arrange which campuses they're using and the times of their classes based off when they can get there, so transportation has a big impact," Gentile said, adding that the Danvers campus holds the college's signature and most in-demand health service programs.

So the college studied the demographics of the area and worked with a transportation consultant to examine where students lived and commuted in an effort to try to get a bus route extended -- it stopped at a shopping center about five miles away.

But in order to get a bus line extension, the college had to know its potential ridership.

"It became a chicken and egg problem, because you don't know your ridership because you don't have a bus line," she said. "And you can't have a bus line because you don't know your ridership."

So Gentile and other North Shore officials decided to reach out to the ride-sharing service Uber to cover the gap in transportation between the shopping mall five miles away and the campus.

"Uber has been marketing the North Shore, and they've been building drivers in the area by extending out from Boston," Gentile said, adding that the company put together an app to collect data on students using the service so the college can know its ridership.

Meanwhile, the college is subsidizing Uber rides for students who use the app to travel between the mall stop and the campus. So far, since the start of this school year, 76 students have downloaded the promotional code from North Shore for the subsidized ride and eight people have taken a total of 16 trips.

Gentile said the college set aside $40,000 to cover the subsidized rides, which is far less than the $100,000 a year they estimate for potentially using shuttles instead.

For students attending community colleges in more rural areas, transportation has always been a bit of an issue.

On average rural students will travel 52 miles round-trip to attend college, said Randy Smith, president of the Rural Community College Alliance.

"There is no public transportation, for the most part," he said. "Some rural communities will have a local van service, but trying to get public transportation doesn't exist in a community of 8,000 or 10,000 people."

In that situation, it's not uncommon for faculty to see attendance issues if a car breaks down or if a ride from a friend falls apart. Changes in who gets to drive a family vehicle to work may determine whether or not a student drops out, he said.

Some colleges will choose to run their own shuttle service, which can be cheaper when they're transporting a few students each day, he said, adding that others may try to build partnerships with local nonprofit agencies like the United Way that often have shuttle services for the elderly.

"A lot of individual colleges try to find ways to solve this effectively and as cost-efficiently as possible," Smith said. "And some colleges don't have anything and students are kind of on their own."

At New Jersey's suburban Brookdale Community College, faculty and administrators successfully lobbied county administrators and New Jersey Transit for three bus routes connecting the campus and its centers to students. The lines were adjusted so that they can continue service in the evening and on weekends.

"Because the buses are more frequent, students have more of an opportunity to be on time to class or take a class earlier or later," said Oly Malpica Proctor, associate professor of math at Brookdale, who helped with establishing the bus lines. "We had to get into the mentality of taking public transportation, because we don't think about it … we're a suburb. We drive everywhere, so we had to bring transportation to the conversation."

NJTransit worked with the college and examined class times to create a bus timetable that would accommodate students.

But not every college has had success with attempts to extend public transportation to their campuses. Officials at Mt. Hood Community College in Portland, Ore., learned recently that a proposed rapid-bus route to the campus was on the chopping block because of limited funding. The proposal would have connected Portland State University and Portland Community College through a route that ended at Mt. Hood CC.

"For many of our students in the east county area, it can take anywhere from an hour to two hours to actually get out to the college," said Debra Derr, president of Mt. Hood. "We're not unique when it comes to community colleges. For our students, within the context of the Portland metropolitan area, housing is far less expensive in our district … we're seeing a large migration of individuals living in poverty and moving into our district."

Mt. Hood's demographics are shifting to include more low-income, first-generation students, who often don't own a car and rely on mass transit to travel anywhere, she said.

"The impact is not just on our enrollment, it's on our workforce," she said. "Our business and industry partners are communicating to us the need for a skilled workforce. So how do people get skills and go to work when the frequency and bus lines have not been updated to address the education and training needs of these counties?"

Derr said she's in a similar position the officials at North Shore were in when trying to establish a new route -- proving that the ridership is there despite not having the transit available to study that ridership.

Eliminating the stretch of rapid-bus transit from a transit center to the college would reduce the project's cost by $24 million. The entire project, which would include widening roads for dedicated bus lanes and upgrading streetlight technology, is expected to cost up to $200 million, according to The Oregonian.

It wouldn't be the first time that Mt. Hood has been cut off from public transportation, though, Derr said, adding that 30 years ago a proposed mass transit line was planned to reach the college, but back then the money wasn't available, either. She doesn't want to see the college have to wait another 20 or 30 years before the issue is addressed.

"Portland overall is just an amazing place for urban planning and for mass transit, but because we are located in the east part of Portland metropolitan area, sometimes we get left out or not prioritized," Derr said. "But this isn't just a Mt. Hood issue. Getting students to and from school and to and from work is a challenge, and if we really want to look at the big picture of economic vitality, we have to look at the issue of transportation."

Community Colleges
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New Jersey Transit bus
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Statement on LIU Brooklyn Lockout

Over the Labor Day weekend, the administration of Long Island University (LIU) announced an unprecedented lockout of all 400 members of its Brooklyn campus faculty union in the midst of ongoing contract negotiations. The AAUP deplores this action and supports the right of the LIU Brooklyn faculty to collectively bargain in good faith with its administration.

Over the Labor Day weekend, the administration of Long Island University (LIU) announced an unprecedented lockout of all 400 members of its Brooklyn campus faculty union in the midst of ongoing contract negotiations. The AAUP deplores this action and supports the right of the LIU Brooklyn faculty to collectively bargain in good faith with its administration.

Statement on LIU Brooklyn Lockout

Over the Labor Day weekend, the administration of Long Island University (LIU) announced an unprecedented lockout of all 400 members of its Brooklyn campus faculty union in the midst of ongoing contract negotiations. The AAUP deplores this action and supports the right of the LIU Brooklyn faculty to collectively bargain in good faith with its administration.

Over the Labor Day weekend, the administration of Long Island University (LIU) announced an unprecedented lockout of all 400 members of its Brooklyn campus faculty union in the midst of ongoing contract negotiations. The AAUP deplores this action and supports the right of the LIU Brooklyn faculty to collectively bargain in good faith with its administration.

Union Victory for Student Employees at Private Institutions

The National Labor Relations Board found today that student assistants working at private institutions are statutory employees with the right to unionize under the National Labor Relations Act. The  AAUP had filed an amicus brief in this case. “Graduate employees deserve a seat at the table and a voice in higher education. Collective bargaining can provide that,” says Howard Bunsis, chair of the AAUP Collective Bargaining Congress.

The National Labor Relations Board found today that student assistants working at private institutions are statutory employees with the right to unionize under the National Labor Relations Act. The  AAUP had filed an amicus brief in this case. "Graduate employees deserve a seat at the table and a voice in higher education. Collective bargaining can provide that," says Howard Bunsis, chair of the AAUP Collective Bargaining Congress.

Union Victory for Student Employees at Private Institutions

The National Labor Relations Board found today that student assistants working at private institutions are statutory employees with the right to unionize under the National Labor Relations Act. The  AAUP had filed an amicus brief in this case. “Graduate employees deserve a seat at the table and a voice in higher education. Collective bargaining can provide that,” says Howard Bunsis, chair of the AAUP Collective Bargaining Congress.

The National Labor Relations Board found today that student assistants working at private institutions are statutory employees with the right to unionize under the National Labor Relations Act. The  AAUP had filed an amicus brief in this case. "Graduate employees deserve a seat at the table and a voice in higher education. Collective bargaining can provide that," says Howard Bunsis, chair of the AAUP Collective Bargaining Congress.

Funding Available for Governance Conference Registration Fees

The AAUP Foundation Board has approved funds to cover registration fees for up to six faculty members to attend the AAUP Shared Governance Conference and Workshops, with preference given to candidates who are likely to broaden the diversity of shared governance on their campuses. The conference will be held in Washington, DC, September 30-October 2, and applications for funding are due by September 15.

The AAUP Foundation Board has approved funds to cover registration fees for up to six faculty members to attend the AAUP Shared Governance Conference and Workshops, with preference given to candidates who are likely to broaden the diversity of shared governance on their campuses. The conference will be held in Washington, DC, September 30-October 2, and applications for funding are due by September 15.

Funding Available for Governance Conference Registration Fees

The AAUP Foundation Board has approved funds to cover registration fees for up to six faculty members to attend the AAUP Shared Governance Conference and Workshops, with preference given to candidates who are likely to broaden the diversity of shared governance on their campuses. The conference will be held in Washington, DC, September 30-October 2, and applications for funding are due by September 15.

The AAUP Foundation Board has approved funds to cover registration fees for up to six faculty members to attend the AAUP Shared Governance Conference and Workshops, with preference given to candidates who are likely to broaden the diversity of shared governance on their campuses. The conference will be held in Washington, DC, September 30-October 2, and applications for funding are due by September 15.